This article suggests some tips on how to select a ski touring itinerary. It is intended primarily for experienced ski-mountaineers who can decide independently and are capable to evaluate the conditions on site under their sole responsibility. If you do not possess the necessary skills and experience to do so, we suggest you to hire a mountain guide or join a tour proposed by Lynx Trails.
By no means shall the authors of this article nor Lynx Trails be liable for any accident arising directly or indirectly from the utilization of the tips given here below.
The Alps have been populated since centuries and all valleys feature at least a small village. This applies to any country in the alpine region: Italy, France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia.
If there is an inhabited village, then a road leading to it does exist, and this is main reason why for ski mountaineers is not easy to find unbeaten slopes. Let alone, of course, the (small and big) ski resorts where you have ski lifts, pistes, hotels, and all kinds of facilities.
That said, there are almost infinite unbeaten slopes for ski touring in the Alps… you just need to know how to find them ! The following tips will help you through.
#1 ROAD ACCESS
As just mentioned, most skiers choose their destination for the day according to road accessibility. They generally use their personal car, less often the public transport (execpt maybe the swiss locals).
So, if the road is long and narrow, or temporarily covered by snow, be sure you will find far less people going there.
Here’s a trick: some places in remote valleys have very limited parking areas. If you get there early, you may enjoy your tour with few tracks around.
# 2 LIFT ACCESS
Many ski mountaineers like to gain altitude by using the lifts. If you choose to take advantage of lifts, be sure you will be not alone. On the contrary, if you choose an itinerary in the same area, but withoit lift access, you will have good chances to find unbeaten slopes.
#3 INFO AVAILABLE
Quite many ski mountaineers are just lazy, ironically. They do not wish to spend much time in planning. On the internet there is an abundance of classic itineraries, these have the highest probability to get crowded, especially if they are well documented (description, photos, videos). On facebook you find the last adventure published by the hero of the day, sometimes outlining how good was the powder, etc.
The ovbious suggestion is: don’t go there. The second (strong) suggestion is to invest time in planning. Having excluded all the options where plenty of information is available, dig in some less known website, consult the guidebooks in search of a more remote itinerary and consult the maps (see next).
Maps are the primary source of ideas to the ski mountaineer searching for unbeaten slopes. Get a detailed good quality map of the area, ideally 1:25000 scale and try to identify a nice and possibly less obvious itinerary. Cross check with the internet and a guidebook. If you find little information, but the itinerary looks feasible on the map, just go there and evaluate on site; you will have a chance to enjoy an adventureous tour with nobody around (see also#6).
Naturally, consulting maps efficiently requires a lot of practice; but can be learned along the years starting with the help of a friend who is already experienced in exploration and route finding.
Here’s a trick: some peaks are not named on maps, only the altitude figure is given. Unnamed cols and peaks are generally less visited and often unveil great tours.
Be aware of GoogleEarth or other navigation apps showing 3D terrain: they can be useful for a general idea about an area, but the image of the terrain is still of low quality and does not reflect precisely such details as changes in slope, rocks cliffs, gullies, seracs or crevasses on a glacier, etc.
Some ski tours are crowded not because they are well known and documented, but simply because they became fashionable. One example: the col Passon traverse in Argentière (Mont Blanc). A trendy local guide went there with some clients; the day after some great photos were exchanged and the locals started to talk about it. It became a “must do” tour.
Another example is Val Maira in north-western Italy. Some years ago a team of german skiers went there and wrote about this fantastic valley with unbeaten slopes, cheap accomodation and great food. The word spread around the whole Europe and nowadays val Maira is still beautiful, but unbeaten slopes ar far less likely to find. So what ? … just go to the nearby valleys Grana and Stura, also beautiful, but much less visited.
#6 NAVIGATE ON SIGHT
Some great adventures just decide on a valley and go there, without much planning in this case. Once on site, they look around. Sometimes is easy to see where most skiers go (and don’t go) and, if you have the experience, you may study the terrain and detect a possible untouched line.
This strategy really works, because skiers tend to go on the most known itineraries where other people are already engaged (flock effect), neglecting other less obvious options.
Finding on site a secluded couloir, not visible from down the valley, is one of the special pleasures offered by the Dolomites in particular.
#7 CHARACTERISTICS OF AN ITINERARY
This is obviouysly a key factor. It comes without saying that the more difficult an itinerary, the highest chances to find unbeaten slopes. The same applies for other characteristics such as the complexity and the snow limit.
If a tour is complex (for example: mixed terrain, frequent changes ski/ on foot/ski/crampons, frequent loss and gain of altitude, exposed traverses, crevasses, various gully crossing) then is less likely to be frequently visited, because mountaineers favour relaxed tours with simple routing.
Also the snow limit plays a role: skiers do not like to walk and carry skis for long distance.
#8 MOUNTAIN GUIDES
Mountain guides do not like to hassle while taking their customers on a ski tour. They have their own standard itineraries which they use most of the times and recommend to those who ask.
However, we suggest you to consult the local guides’ website, where you will find these standard tours but, sometimes, you will also find some less known itineraries (although generally of high diffculty) that the guides want to show on their website in order to impress potential customers.
#9 DAY OF THE WEEK
To maximize your chance of less crowded tours, choose a day in the week and avoid the weekends and local holidays. This is especially true in Italy, where the impact of -local skiers duirng the weekends is higher.
Obviously, the tactis to go on a day during the week is no guarantee of unbeaten slopes. Your itinerary may have been massacred by skiers on sunday and on monday you find tracks evereywhere, unless you are blessed with some new fresh snow.
#10 MOUNTAIN HUTS
There are plenty of mountain huts in the Alps, as nowhere else on the planet. Not all of them are open in winter and spring but, if they are, they represent a big attraction to ski mountaineers, and this for many reasons. If you aim at unbeaten slopes, you should avoid any tour including open huts.
Wheather has a great impact on the mountaineers’ choice, in the Alps much more than in other regions such as northern Europe or northern America (alpine skiers are somehow more whimsical…)
After an heavy snowfall, skiers avidly look for powder snow, but are not willing to spend much energy in the way up. If you look for unbeaten slopes, accept some extra approach on the lower valley , in exchange of having a whole slope for yourself.
Another tip: if the wheather forecast is not favourable or uncertain, many skiers stay at home and your chances of skiing unbeaten slopes are higher. Often taking risks pays off !
(photo by Monterosa Freeride)
#12 EARLY START
It sounds trivial… but it works ! If at all cost, after a night snowfall you aim at a classic super-attractive line, the only chance to ski an unbeaten slope is to go first. You must walk up very early !
If the slope is accessed by a lift, some passionates are so crazy to accept an extremely early start and extra skinning, as to get at the top before the lift opens…
#13 EARLY OR LATE SEASON
Many years ago there were few people on an early winter ski tour. Nowadays the mentality has changed and, as soon as you have the first snowfall in the season, flocks of ski mountaineers gather on all classic winter tours.
However, the opposite applies for the late season, which sees now far less skiers than years before, for a number of reasons. Hence, going on a ski tour in late may or june, means very often to have the whole mountain for yourself, especially on a two-days tour and combined with a high snow limit. Again, sacrifices pay off …
#14 BEST OPTION
You may adopt one or more of the above mentioned strategies to find your own adventure on unbeaten slopes. However, if you do not wish to struggle, just join a tour proposed by Lynx Trails !
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to SEARCH for your most suitable tour, all over the Alps and the Apennines
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